Myanmar Junta’s Caretaker Government Follows in Footsteps of Former Dictator Ne Win

By The Irrawaddy 3 August 2021

In 1958, Myanmar’s then military chief General Ne Win ousted the elected government led by Prime Minister U Nu and formed a caretaker government.

Books on the history of Myanmar’s military claim U Nu voluntarily handed over power to Gen. Ne Win for the sake of national stability, after the ruling Anti-Fascist People’s Freedom League (AFPFL) split into two due to internal factions. However, U Nu said in his autobiography that he was forced to do so.

U Nu told Ne Win that the coup would tarnish not only the image of Myanmar’s military but also the reputation of the country itself, suggesting that he would convene Parliament to hand over power to the military if Ne Win promised a free and fair election.

So it was highly questionable whether Ne Win’s election at the Lower House and his swearing-in before President Mahn Win Maung was in line with democratic norms.

Ne Win was the only military member of the 14-member caretaker government in 1958, with the rest made up of non-politician civilians including law experts and those from administrative and education circles.

When Ne Win reshuffled his caretaker government in 1959, it had 16 members with three military figures: Ne Win, Brigadier General Tin Pe and military procurement director U Thi Han. There were some 140 military officials in various ministries.

After 17 months, the caretaker government held a general election as it had promised. But the Myanmar people, who had become familiar with democracy since the country’s independence in 1948, were upset by the regime’s tough stances, such as arresting politicians and sending them to the Coco Islands, escalating the civil war and suppressing the popular Kyemon Daily newspaper as part of a campaign to muzzle the media.

U Nu’s faction of the AFPFL won the 1960 election and, as he had promised, Ne Win handed power back to them.

Having tasted power, Ne Win staged a coup in 1962 and overthrew U Nu’s government, less than two years after he had returned power to it. This time, the eight-member Revolutionary Council led by Ne Win was different from the caretaker government he had led in 1958. All the members were military officers, except for foreign and labor affairs minister U Thi Han.

Myanmar would remain under the iron grip of Ne Win for the next 26 years. He imposed repressive rule under a succession of different names as the chairman of the Revolutionary Council, then the Burma Socialist Programme Party and finally as President.

Myanmar’s economy failed under Ne Win’s rule and the country was reduced to one of the least developed countries in the world, leading to a popular uprising against his regime in 1988. Only then did the 77-year-old dictator hand power over to General Saw Maung, who once said that Ne Win was like a father to him.

Myanmar’s current military chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing followed in Ne Win’s steps by seizing power in a Feb.1 coup this year, claiming that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy landslide win in the 2020 general election was marred by fraud.

The same day, he formed the State Administration Council and appointed himself the council chairman. Six months later, he formed a caretaker government like Ne Win did and appointed himself as the prime minister of the caretaker government, which consists of generals, military-linked politicians and civilians.

Snr. Gen Min Aung Hlaing has promised to hold a multi-party general election in the future. But even if that happens, many doubt it will be a free and fair election.

Myanmar has been in political turmoil since the coup. At the orders of the coup leader, junta forces have killed more than 900 people in the past six months. Thousands more people have died unnecessarily, as the military regime has failed to address the devastating third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. And millions are facing hardship in all aspects of life. So it is fair to say, Snr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing is worse than Ne Win.

It remains to be seen what tricks the coup leader will play to stay in power once the term of his caretaker government ends.

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